When I was living in Bowral last year, one of my favourite places to explore was Carrington Falls in Budderoo National Park. The falls themselves are spectacular and easily reached by car and a short stroll to lookouts etc. Of more interest to me was the two routes down into the Kangaroo River downstream of the falls, which National Parks seem to keep quiet about and so it takes a little exploring to find them, and realise they can be joined into a nice day’s loop. On the eastern side of the gorge is Stevo’s Track, which seems to be an old logging track which switchbacks down the Waratah studded sandstone cliffs to reach a sizable flat area perched halfway down the slope. The deeper soils here support a tall forest of Blue Gums and Tallowood. On the Western side, a track leads out to the now un-maintained Missingham Steps. No switchbacks here, just a steep plunge down through a narrow gully that cuts through the cliffs. And despite the name, not a lot of steps either. There are some cut into the rock, but often subsequent tumbling of boulders has left them stranded anyway.
On my last trip down the ‘steps’ I came across a group of animal bones, perched on a mossy rock. The remains of a rock wallaby perhaps? The place always felt special and amazing, and this group of bones only heightened the feeling. The way they were grouped on the rock, undisturbed, felt almost like they had been placed as an offering. It was quite an uncanny feeling. I didn’t feel I could disturb them, so I just took a few (mostly blurry) photos in the dim green light of the canyon, perched high above the forested flanks of the main valley, while simultaneously feeling vulnerable to the great mass of the plateau above me in this incision of mossy rocks that I shared only with these wallaby bones. Reflecting on this place now as I write, I realise that it has common characteristics with some other places where I have had similar feelings of it being somehow special. Most notably coming to mind is a place in Washpool National Park that I dubbed ‘The Gates’ and made a drawing of the spot which included the text of a little story I wrote about it. ‘the Gates’ formed the place where I left the fire trails and ventured off track into a small but wonderous, boulder strewn catchment that I called home for a month. These places are natural thresholds, a constricted opening in the natural barriers between one part of the landscape and another, often from a broader, generalised, easily accessed area to a smaller, more specific, secluded or difficult to reach area with few human visitors. A classic Shangri La fantasy perhaps. These are places that I love to be in, they feel more like home than anywhere else. A difficult passage through (should I say it?) a liminal zone from the outside ‘normal’ world to pass into the secluded paradise heightens the senses and intensifies the expectation. At ‘The Gates’ there was an unussual boulder, that I came to see as the Guardian Spirit of the place, who you needed to respect in ordered to be allowed entry into that homeland. Here at Missingham Steps, the bones performed this same role, a sudden jolt to the senses, requiring an almost ritual respect as you passed, in order to be able to truly appreciate the valley below as ‘home’.
Below is the view from this place and another looking almost vertically down on the bones and the base of the ‘steps’ below.
I should add that both routes are not formally constructed walking tracks, are very steep, and receive no maintenance. Furthermore, the ‘tracks’ only reach halfway down to the river, the rest is rather a matter of finding your own way, though there are many (unofficial) markers of various kinds, from flagging tape, to rock cairns, to tin lids! But as is so often the case, these markers intrude on the ‘natural’ feel of the place, without actually offering an effective trail to follow since they always seem to be lacking at crucial places and trying to rely on them only diminishes the propper observance of the landscape that should be your true guide. If none of this is the kind of thing that puts you off, then you will love the wonderous delights of the river valley below. I hope to return sometime, and spend a few weeks camping and drawing in this little visited gem of a place. Perhaps I’ll find you there.